By Cole Parkinson
Several local municipalities and the Taber/Vauxhall RCMP detachment have partnered to create a new notification system for the public.
The South Central Alberta Regional Notification System (SCAR) was created to provide residents with a more timely and consistent approach to emergency and communications in the region.
Born from a partnership between the Municipal District of Taber, Town of Vauxhall, Village of Barnwell, Taber/Vauxhall RCMP and the new South Central Alberta Rural Crime Watch Association, the initiative went live on Oct. 1.
“That partnership has formed quite quickly in the area here in order to address the need for a notification system. We’re trying to create a one-stop-shop for our messaging and communications with the public. We’re trying to consolidate our messaging into one application so giving the user the ability to receive notifications for all of those communities and the area, hence the name South Central Alberta Regional Notification System. That includes urgent messages, website notifications, general messaging, which also has urgency as well depending on what the message is on our website,” said Bryce Surina, director of GIS and IT at M.D. council’s meeting on Oct. 8. “We also have the Alberta Emergency Alert portion that we are looking at as a partnership and how we can really engage that piece, and get good value for it without over messaging.”
Residents in the participating municipalities can sign up for the notification system at scarnotify.ca and from there can choose what types of alerts they want.
Alerts residents can expect to receive include rural crime updates, fire bans, emergencies, service interruptions, road construction along with news and events.
SCAR is also working towards crime reduction through awareness, crime prevention and residents can report suspicious activity they see in the area through the system. They can also choose when registering as to how they want to receive the updates, whether it be through email, text or call.
“The idea is also that it is a volunteer approach so members of the public can submit if they choose to. If they have other means of notification, they can use them but we certainly suggest and recommend that they submit and sign up for the program. The more members of the community that sign up, the more eyes and ears we have out in the community. The more people receiving our messages means it is more consistent across the board,” continued Surina. “We get the promotional pieces out there and we can sign people up manually and digitally. They can sign up through any of the municipal websites.”
This group of municipalities are not the only ones to go down this route in terms of simplifying and improving communications for residents. The Town of Barrhead is a municipality the group looked at when structuring their own service.
“I did mention the separation of critical versus general messaging and the fact that we are making an effort to improve on communications and learn from other organizations that have done this,” stated Surina.
“It’s information getting out to the public and it’s basically casting a broad net as you are able to reach a large number of people in a short amount of time. I’m going to be taking my lead pretty much from my counterpart up in Barrhead as to how to responsibly use this system,” added Sgt. Gord Yetman.
While the system has just got up and running, the group is confident in the expansion possibilities for SCAR.
Even though it will only be functional in the current participating municipalities to start, having South Central Alberta in the name was entirely on purpose in the hopes of further growth down the road.
“One other key piece of the development of the partnership was that we chose our name specifically so we maintain the regional approach. It has the opportunity to grow and we are positioned to grow so if there are interests amongst the communities around us, there is an opportunity there. Initially, we are addressing our needs locally, but there is certainly an opportunity,” explained Surina.
The RCMP is also excited by the potential ability to expand upon the SCAR system.
“As Bryce said, this is something that can be built upon and you’re positioned to grow this notification system, so I am excited on where this can go and how we can use it in the fight against rural crime. I think tying it to Rural Crime Watch is 100 per cent the way to go,” Yetman explained.
SCAR is also going to provide quite a bit of assistance to the local division of Rural Crime Watch, as they continue to set up their operation in the Taber region.
“SCAR, actually for us, is a huge benefit. We won’t have to worry about setting up a website, Facebook pages and other stuff. Our notifications will be out instantly and it is controlled locally which is a big difference because now when you put it up, it is up right away,” said Kevin O’ Grady, president of the South Central Alberta Rural Crime Watch Association, whose group also presented to council during the same meeting.
With the system up and running only since the beginning of the month, the group is expecting there to be some hiccups but they implore all users to share any issues and feedback they may have.
“Those are really good opportunities to provide us with feedback. If there are things that aren’t working or we can adjust the system to meet the needs of everybody in our community,” said Surina, who also touched on the benefits of the system for the participating municipalities. “There are a lot of good stats, and in the past, that was not something we could embrace, analytics and statistics. This really brings those things together and this application is really going to cater to us being able to identify these trends. There are a lot of tools within the system that will help us.”